By Emilio Parodi and Francesca Landini
MILAN (Reuters) - Italian police arrested a fugitive associate of alleged soccer matchfixing kingpin Tan Seet Eng on Thursday after he flew in from Singapore to hand himself over, they said in a statement.
The man, identified as 31-year-old Slovenian Admir Suljic, arrived at Milan's Malpensa airport in the early hours to find police waiting for him after a tip-off by Singapore authorities.
Police said in a statement that Suljic, who is accused in Italy of "criminal association aimed at sporting fraud", had bought a one-way ticket with the intention of surrendering to them.
He is considered a "key element" in Italy's 'Last Bet' probe into match-fixing between 2009 and 2011.
Police said Suljic would be taken to a prison in the city of Cremona.
"His direct involvement in the international criminal group, made of Singapore nationals and people from the Balkans, has emerged from the investigation," the police statement said.
Italian prosecutors have accused Tan, also known as Dan Tan, of heading an organisation to fix soccer matches worldwide and Italian police have issued an arrest warrant for him.
Singapore says Tan is not wanted there, but it is working with European authorities looking into the syndicate.
Police in Singapore confirmed the tipoff to their Italian counterparts about Suljic and said Tan was assisting them with their investigations.
A joint inquiry by Europol, the European anti-crime agency, and national prosecutors identified about 680 suspicious matches including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and for Europe's Champions League.
INTERPOL chief Ronald Noble, speaking at a conference in Kuala Lumpur on combating match-fixing, said former player Suljic was part of Singapore national Tan's network.
Suljic retired in 2009 after playing for top division Slovenian clubs Rudar Velenje and Nafta Lendava as well as lower tier ones in Hungary and Austria.
An Italian judicial source said INTERPOL had pooled together investigations launched by authorities in countries including Italy, Germany, Spain and Turkey.
Singapore police said on Thursday a team of four officers would be sent to INTERPOL within the next two weeks to assist in matchfixing investigations and that the city-state remained "committed" in the fight against matchfixing.
Singapore allows suspects to be sent only to countries with which it has an extradition treaty. Germany has such a treaty with Singapore but Italy, which made the original complaint about matchfixers manipulating Italian games, does not.
Noble, who previously told Singapore's Straits Times newspaper it would be unfortunate if the country's "well-earned anti-crime reputation" suffered from the allegations, said he did not agree with criticism that Singapore was not doing enough to fight matchfixing.
"I think the case I told you about, the case that is unfolding right now, makes it clear that Singaporeans, like European Union investigators and judges, are required to follow their law," he said.
Experts say matchfixing is rampant in Asia, where lax regulation combined with a huge betting market have made soccer a prime target for crime syndicates.
Last year the head of an anti-corruption watchdog estimated that $1 trillion was gambled on sport each year - or $3 billion a day - with most coming from Asia and wagered on soccer matches.
(Additional reporting by Sivi Sithraputhran in Kuala Lumpur, writing by Alan Baldwin and Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Pritha Sarkar)